Monday, December 27, 2004

Old technology but good

The Olympia Traveller C is, unless I can find any others, the last manual typewriter being manufactured anywhere in the world. Yes, it's totally obsolete technology but then, it doesn't need batteries, the kernel will never panic, there's no screen to have the BSOD, and no self-respecting thief would ever look twice.

My second-hand typewriter (made by the unknown company ABC) is nice, and very useful for writer's block. The limitations and the concentration needed to type properly, hitting each key firmly and independently, is a wonderful experience after cheap PC keyboards. It seems to break writer's block every time. The change focuses the mind, and I've never typed 'teh' or 'mutlicluturalism' yet. The price I paid for it was excellent, after retrieving it from a skip bin full of building rubble, but it's limited. It's pre-decimal currency, for a start.

I want one. Now I just have to find somewhere that stocks it, and a decent justification to spend USD $78. So far I have none of those three things, especially considering the counter-appeal of giving my money instead to this.

UPDATE: According to Will Davis' really frightening typewriter site, the Olympia Traveller C is no longer in production. Rest in peace, manual portable typewriter.

UPDATE2: Chee May (Goh's) Pty Ltd of Hong Kong still sells manual typewriters. Hurrah!

"We have the technology"

I found it more than a little tasteless this morning to find Glenn Reynolds from instapundit lecturing on what the governments of the wave-hit coastlines could have done to stop the disaster being so disastrous. Apparently there should have been better early warning systems.

We've all woken up to the news, and we, all of us who live in coastal cities, have the common sense of mutual vulnerability. I live in Sydney and it's a chilling thought to imagine a wave of this sort running up the harbour and down the Parramatta River.

The myth of technological perfectability is genuinely appealing. It's the one that goes like this: if we can have detection systems, then we'll be safer, if we have engineering solutions, we can live wherever we want to. I generally like engineers very much and I'm indebted to them for all of the big and small benefits they've brought to my life. I don't, however, expect them to try the impossible: to immunise overdeveloped coastal cities against irregular, unpredictable events.

There genuinely are no solutions to this kind of catastrophe. Early warning systems run by scientists sound fine, in principle, but when other scientists point out that the best warning systems are visual ones, what then?

Professor Plimer says while it is impossible to predict the future for any area, the quickest warning is a visual one.
"If you can see Lake Illawarra suddenly draining and the ocean beaches suddenly draining then head for the hills," he said.

Well that's encouraging, if the hills are within running distance. (If you lived on any number of flood plains on the East coast, that'd be a serious jog). I think Australian cities would do better at surviving disasters because of the other things we have: more doctors, better equipped hospitals, better communication, more emergency facilities. These things are also pretty good things to have in the non-disaster times as well.

If we're to help out with foreign aid, not just immediately but in the long term, then we can try to build up the infrastructure of coastal cities, rather than try to prevent the impossible.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Radio pirates

Thanks to Weezil at S'truth? STREWTH! for this article on a new guerrilla radio station operating in Washington DC.

Pirate radio is a fascinating political phenomenon. On the one hand, it's a challenge to the dominance of the state. Every country has its own system of licencing and apportioning different sections of the spectrum. In Australia the ABA manages the licences for all different kinds of radio. In the US it's the FCC while in Britain, one of the more interesting places for pirate radio history, the Radio Authority has morphed into Ofcom.

One of the historical high points for pirate radio was the emergence of British challengers to the BBC in the 1960s. A couple--please mind my dodgy anecdotal history here--operated from ships stationed outside British territorial waters in the North Sea. Most interestingly for the British system was that some of these pirate radio stations eventually managed to secure legitimate broadcasting licences. Now, you can interpret this either as an example of market competition activism or as an example of the State co-opting a challenging institution.

A side note for Australians: it's a little known fact that the first genuine 'ethnic' radio stations in Australia were set up by the Whitlam Government in 1974, without real radio trasmission licences. For several years 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne operated on the same legal basis as radio taxi drivers and ham operators. It's a long story.

On the other hand, unless there's a specific and immediate political agenda, pirate radio is a bit of a futile exercise. As weezil points out, and as I learned even while bludging through year 8 electronics, it's the easiest thing in the world to direction-find and locate radio transmitters. At some point pirates must trade between popularity and official sanction.

Anthony Smith, legend of broadcasting political history, wrote (in highly gendered language) of the pirate stations in Britain:

No matter how popular his programmes, the broadcaster has to obtain and retain official approval and protection if he wishes to carry on the business of broadcasting. The central dialogue in the life of broadcasting is a dialogue with the State...

I shall be following the Washington DC pirates with interest, and look forward to finding out which option they choose: co-option or abandonment.

Smith, Anthony. The Shadow In The Cave. A Study Of The Relationship Between The Broadcaster, His Audience, And The State. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1973.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

White Australia; the West

Marilyn Lake has an interesting and fair review of The White Australia Policy by everyone's favourite academic outcast Keith Windschuttle in the latest SMH. I read with interest especially the bracketed note where KW mistakes the American historian Richard White with the left-leaning Australian historian Richard White. You know, you'd think as a professional Australian historian you'd be up to speed on just who was who, especially if apparently you've read their books.

As the subject of the book is uncomfortably close to my own thesis topic and to an academic paper I wrote earlier this year, I'm going to have to read it. Stay posted, comrades, for a review sometime soon.

Thankfully we don't live in the Australia of the early twentieth century, nor have we retained their explicit racism. We can conceive of a progressive nation that doesn't discriminate on racial or ethnic grounds--or at least some of us can.

I've been becoming more and more disturbed by the RWDB bloggers imagining the 'West' as a culturally unified entity, inherently opposed to an 'islamist' entity, existing only to challenge and destroy Western values. Melanie Phillips does it here with her take on the recent Victorian religious vilification lawsuit. She has probably never stopped to consider the famous graffiti poem:

How odd
of God
To choose
The Jews.
But not
as odd
as those
who choose
a Jewish God
Yet scorn
the Jews.

...or consider the implications for imagining 'Western' values that can only accomodate a few particular religious beliefs. Scorn for Islam with a defence of supposedly Christian, Western values is a particular brand of blindness that's growing, unfortunately.

Lastly, I swear I'll give you all a break from student political bullshit for a while.

NOLS memoir: space madness (III)

We had solidified into solid blocs of pro- and anti-deal. Of course political arguments were made to cover it; the anti-dealers stressed their left credentials and commitment to 'solidarity' with the NBL, and the abstract Left. Pro-dealers stressed the importance of sticking by political deals, once made, and the importance of loyalty as a genuinely idealistic virtue. Political arguments circled around and around to try to explain the difference; as if it were possible just to fit our fractions on a left-and-right linear scale.

AW from my campus was particularly serious and humourless about it. Those familiar with NOLS' habits know its four pillars socialism, feminism, unionism, democracy (whatever they're supposed to mean). Declaring the whole thing invalid, she simply declared herself a 'socialist', an umbrella term supposed to cover the whole gamut of human political activity, and would not take any discussion or mention of possible complexities. Positions (x), (y) and (z) were socialist, she could confidently declare, and positions which were NOT (x) (y) or (z) were, in consequence equal to 'right-wing'.

When I tried once to discuss sport--aussie rules, I think--AW pronounced all sport, of whatever kind, to be un-socialist. It was an attempt, you see, to split the working classes into unhealthy competitive instincts, to increase xenophobic nationalism, and shatter the co-operative spirit. I would have liked to see her argue that at some kind of non-student-political event, say, in the beer line at the cricket.

Everyone had to pick a side, and it was only the very skilful, the very idealistic, or the very very drug-affected, who avoided it. My comrade DF deserves an honourable mention here as someone who stayed above the fray through genuine good spirits and honourable behaviour: I think all of the participants could agree that he, of all of us, behaved best. The rest of us formed our sides, and picked positions; the 'hard left' self-appointed and the 'soft left' designated by exclusion from the 'hard'. Tall, sarcastic MO from South Australia set us all laughing hilariously by arriving back at the Bacchus Marsh caucus room, late at night after a bottleshop run, with a bag of lollies.

Marshmallows anyone?

The caucus meeting to decide on the issue of the deal, once convened, took hours. Everyone could see perfectly well that, having debated education, and student unionism, and women's, and queer, and international, and every other kind of policy, that a decision had to be made about what would happen to the deal.

On one side: it was obvious that a two-for-two with Unity, once sealed and signed, had to be delivered. The realities of factionalism demanded no less. NOLS' split in 1997 had produced the Australian Labor Students (ALS) colloquially known as the 'Rats', for their act that year of going back on a signed-sealed deal. On one side, the pro-deal 'soft' side of NOLS backed the argument that going back on the deal would stain our political reputation, and besides, be a bad act politically in its own right. The benefits of good political faith outweighed the temporary benefits of turning traitor and siding with the NBL. Solidarity, it was argued, was also a virtue to be extended to our Labor comrades on the Right, as well as our non-Labor comrades to our Left.

On the other side: it was obvious that NOLS' solid political commitments to pro-choice ideals meant that we would lose out politically were we to deal an anti-abortion General Secretary candidate into her position. The broad left were exerting considerable political pressure on the faction as a whole, which couldn't help but make an impact. The idealism which had drawn us all to Labor and Left politics in the first place really did sit oddly with such a compromising and cynical deal for power. Most of all we knew from experience exactly the level of abuse and intimidation the broad left would deliver us were NOLS to carry through with the deal.

I had my own say on the floor of caucus, perhaps one of the more intimidating moments of my political life. I stood in front of my stony-faced comrades, argued in favour of sticking by the deal, and expressed disbelief that people could seriously stand up and argue for ratting on a deal on political grounds. Then I went outside, where SF, my comrade from Sydney Uni, was in tears.

Early on in the debate, we decided on the terms of battle. We sat in a large circle. There were to be no applause to follow speakers, no interjections, and a speaking list was to be followed strictly. We would have a secret ballot at the end of a predetermined number of speakers. As a result speeches were followed by a dense, loaded silence, and listening involved staring.

The secret ballot was carried out and counted, the results a shock to everyone. The pro-deal 'soft' carried more than 25 votes, with the anti-deal 'hard' securing a bare 7.* It was, there are no two ways about this, a crushing defeat.

Who can tell what would have happened had the vote gone differently? There is no point whatsoever to that kind of hypothetical history. The loss on the caucus floor in Bacchus Marsh destroyed whatever remaining solidarity we had. Caucusing on the matter, and deciding to stick by the deal meant that the 'hard' left delegates had nothing to lose, having played their cards and done poorly. We all knew that sooner or later, there'd be a split, it was just a matter of degrees and consequences.

Even socially the 'hard' began to keep themselves apart. They ate by themselves, refused to come to caucus, rearranged the dormitory rooms so as to keep to themselves, and shunned contact with those of us who'd too obviously declared our sympathies. There was no time to patch things up; it was time to get the bus to Ballarat, scene of the NUS Conference proper.

*In 2000 only campus delegates and their 'alternates', appointed by the student associations that elected them, held votes within NOLS caucus, every vote having equal value. Others--like me--had speaking rights but no votes that year. The idea behind the rule was to discourage campus-based stacking, but has since been changed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

NOLS memoir: space madness (II)

Melbourne to me will always be the image of Spencer Street covered in grit and rain slime. I arrived at the station in early December of 2000 and, confused by the tram lines I'd never encountered before, nearly stepped in front of the city circle service. Now trams are pretty cool, but when a driver leaned out of his window to tell me that my sleeping bag had fallen under the one that I'd just avoided, I was less than pleased. Picture me, carrying my heavy bag carrying clothes for a week, sprinting down the middle of the tram tracks in Spencer Street after a receding tram through traffic lights and sleet, after a sodden sleeping bag at that very moment between a tram's suspension and the precipitated Melbourne smog. It took me four blocks.

I gave my USYD NOLS comrades a call to find out where they were; then made my way to a beautiful room in the University of Melbourne where the atmosphere of caucus was putrid. They were starting to figure out our positions on education policy from the policy books, usually a pleasant though monotonous activity that somehow changed that year, into an aggression-charged competition to display political standpoints. Imagine a circle of thirty or forty faction members sitting, arms crossed and glaring:

A. I think (x).
B. Well I think (y).
C. What about if we amend the policy so that our position is a compromise (xy)?
A. No. B is fucked and right-wing.
B. No. A is being unreasonable.
D. What about (z)?
A,B,C look at D as if he was totally out of his tiny mind, and begin the battle from the beginning.

Thanks should go here to MV, whose apartment floor I slept on with about 7 or 8 other NOLS comrades. She's not in NOLS or the Labor Party any more, more's the pity. I think she still barracks for Hawthorn. Comrade: thank you.

I found out that it was the last day of the precaucus in Melbourne that we'd be having, as the faction had been booked to stay for three days at a budget sport and rec camp in Bacchus Marsh. Now I'm sure Bacchus Marsh is a lovely place, inhabited by wonderful people. I really can't say for sure. We brought our own horror with us, and the year-seven-camp atmosphere didn't do anything for the maturity levels. There were two catered meals a day but we had to organise washing-up details, putting-chairs-out and putting-chairs-away details, mopping details, etc. We shared the venue with what we eventually figured out was a men's consciousness raising group: a bunch of bearded silent men in Holden Racing Team t-shirts with tears in their eyes and Winnie Blues in their pockets. God only knows what they thought we were doing.

NOLS, of course, got about the rural campsite in the conference t-shirts we'd made: red and white on black, with the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists". I never actually got my hands on one but later they kept popping up amongst the broadleft on conference floor with ready-made stickers with the letter 's', to read "This Machine SKills Fascists". Somebody should really have thought of that.

The caucus whip's job is to keep the small bureaucracies running: as NOLS is the second-largest caucus we ran to about seventy people that year, who have to be woken up on time, given proxy slips for voting in caucus(!), kept up to date with what policy is being debated, and so on and so on. On conference floor the whips from each faction make sure that all the paperwork is correct, that there are enough numbers on the floor just in case anything gets voted on, and generally act like kelpies on speed. In Bacchus Marsh my job, after I stupidly volunteered for it, mainly consisted of waking up before everybody else, knocking on doors, and giving the socialist factional reveille:

Arise!, ye workers from your slumbers,
and the last fight let us face...

...beating time on doors with a metre-long cast iron soup ladle. Even bad jobs have their small moments of sheer joy.

In caucus room there was a seriously nasty and stagnant atmosphere developing. It's a paradox of small groups, that the more division and bad blood there is, the less often motions actually get voted on. In Bacchus Marsh the two sides which were developing had moved to the point where neither wanted to vote on anything substantial; to avoid actually testing the numbers in a vote. Politics was conducted by the unproductive system of argument, counter-argument, withdrawal, and muttered complaint. By contrast more healthy caucuses I have been to tend to vote and dissent with happy abandon.

We finally came to head with the major issue of the year on the last day at the camp. We had voted at the midyear conference to make a two-for-two deal with Unity: an arrangement where we would support two of their office-bearer candidates if they would support two of ours. NOLS candidates ran for President and Education Officer while Unity candidates ran for General Secretary and Welfare Officer. Unity's candidate that year for General Secretary was LB, a Victorian woman whose name I had not heard before but about whom I got sick of hearing.

LB, I was told, was a right-wing Catholic product of the SDA (the large and powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association). LB, I was told, was a manic pro-life fanatic. LB, I was told, opposed feminism, supported Brian Harradine, worshipped at the temple of Baal, hated the sunlight and ate fried kittens for breakfast. In short, I was told, LB was not a candiate worthy of NOLS' support. What of our deal, then?

dodgy rhyme to end this post
I have to get this off my chest.
It gets harder as the more time passes.
Just give me ten; I'll finish off the rest
So you can all be part of my catharsis.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Intermission: other NUS bloggers

Space madness II is coming out soon (to a feed aggregator near you!) but by the sounds of Keith Tan's wrap of NUS 2004 I think my story is up against some competition from more recent history. Alex White's nostalgia is also pretty touching--especially in the sections where he dishes out the compliments to Comrade Hogan. Ta mate. You rock. :)

KT, a final note. Though I sympathise with your experience of copping totally unwarranted abuse, accusing the far left of being 'rug munching extremists' doesn't help your cause. At all.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

NOLS memoir: space madness (I)

I think of it as a kind of space madness that afflicts people who go to NUS. Space madness of the kind that might have brought low heroes of bad kids' cartoons. Space madness that sets in when young men and women leave Melbourne from their precaucuses to go to Ballarat, where there is no longer any social contact with the outside world. Space madness that hits the lonely and the sociable alike. Space madness that delivers its victims into a world of altered behaviours and etiquette.

The space madness of NUS is something that can't really be described, it has to be seen and experienced. It's not just the long hours of summer daylight that throw Northerners off-balance. Weeks, months, years of suspicion and distrust are piled on top of each other, faction against faction and clique against clique; every delegate and hanger on becomes a conduit for the malevolent force pushing the conference along. Sleep is not an option. Friendliness and good cheer are things of distant memory. Julius Caesar's assassins would have been totally out of their depth—by the second or third day of Conference they'd be begging for Marc Antony to just fucking lock them out of the office and be done with it.

Rumour, gossip and innuendo are the accepted currency of conference-goers. It isn't possible to go to NUS and not hear stories of terror or jubilation, and even less to go to NUS and remain above the fray. Dignity is the first casualty of the struggle.

Perhaps Unity is going to deal this way, or that, perhaps the NLC will agree, or disagree, perhaps something else is going to happen that will ruin everything, perhaps something else might happen to bring success beyond dreaming. Delegates communicate their own knowledge to each other and keep cycles of lies and half-truths going. In the same way, no matter how powerful you are or how well-informed you think you may be, it isn't possible that you can know everything that's going on, or be up to date with every rumour. Ears are limited, bullshit is infinite.

I'd been talked into coming to NUS by my friends LH, SF and DK who'd gone in 1999 and had a wonderful time. Beer flowed like water, they said. Conference floor was a mix of comedy and drama with songs, chants, and so on, they said. It was something, they said, that was worth seeing and participating in, and I'd have an excellent time. Besides—they said—I was needed in caucus to come and argue on the right side.

These were not auspicious words. It's not a good sign when you're needed to stave off disaster not from the growth of other factions but from the growth of sub-factions inside your own. A dangerous and serious gap had been growing in NOLS for a period of months: there were a few people from New South Wales and Victorian campuses, in particular Sydney and Macquarie, who for whatever reason had decided to take the splitters' path. Things had been going downhill since the middle of the year at the midyear conference of NOLS held at UTS. Midyear conferences are meant to be social and educative; Labor left kids from all of the campuses across Australia should get together to drink, talk about politics, and get to know each other. In 2000, midyear was unusually edgy and conspiratorial—it baffled me at the time and, frankly, I still can't remember what the main points of contention were. The point of the exercise had been that blocs had been forming oppositionally to each other.

The elections of the second semester of 2000, to decide on each campuses' delegates to NUS, had been particularly successful for NOLS but also not without internal dispute. We won back the Presidency at Sydney University but increased the competition between ourselves. I suppose we all just accepted it as the way factions operated and as a normal part of politics.

There was MW, the star Presidential candidate who had been recruited back to NOLS after having left it in a huff over Union Board politics two years before. (It was a long story). There was AW, our most recent successful Union Board candidate whose claim to fame was having famously broken links with Wesley College, appearing in a magazine article which rightly condemned the primitive behaviour of the male students. DK was an up and coming young student politician, later to become NUS President, who, with LF, who had talked me into coming to Labor club in the first place, had done the most to talk me into coming South. Finally there was DR—unofficial leader of the fraction which I ended up opposing. DR was one of the very few genuine geniuses I think I have ever had the privilege of knowing, a really brilliant thinker and a masterful public speaker. In 2000, however, she gradually behaved more and more like someone without any sense of compassion or fellow feeling, someone ruthlessly driven. I hope that things have changed, and that it was just the space madness.

I'm getting bored and so are you. Let's split this story into two.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I think a minute's silence is called for

From the BBC:

A cabin in the US state of Georgia believed to have inspired the party hit Love Shack by cult band the B-52's has burnt down.

Fire officials in Athens-Clarke county are investigating the possibility of arson at the cabin, once inhabited by band member Kate Pierson.

Perhaps the fire officials should find out whether the shack was still 'as hot as an oven' at the time of the fire, or whether the tin roof was still rusted.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Talk about insult

Political personality tests are totally inaccurate, and ones like the political compass are highly US-centric, as well, for other places in the world that place less emphasis on 'liberty' in their political cultures. I'm still a sucker for them, but I feel highly slighted because I came out from the political stereotype quiz as:


Green - You believe that small economic units should control the goods, and that the government should be permissive of "victimless crimes," respectful of civil liberties and very strict towards big business. You also believe in either a socialist tax structure or more power to local communities. You think that environmental policies should be written into law. Your historical role model is Ralph Nader.

Talk about insulting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Save 35mm!

I had to put my old 35mm camera in for servicing today. The shutter fails at the higher speeds; and leaves a stripe of overexposed white on prints. I suppose this is fair enough, the camera is older than I am. Going into the camera shop got me thinking, though, as the shelves were stocked high with digital camera gear for Christmas, and the posters on the walls advertised strictly non-35mm formats of photography: how long does 35mm photography have to live?

I'm quite fond of film as a format. Not because it's cheap--it's certainly not cheap--or because it's easier or delivers better results. Digital technology is pretty cheap and pretty good these days.

Neither is there a specific advantage either way. From the historian's perspective there isn't really any format which is in itself better than any other--whether it's 35mm, 110, 120, large format or digital format. In the twentieth century photography has exploded as an art form, a technical process, a method of recordkeeping, and most of all as a central part of popular culture. Photography allows unskilled and untrained people to produce images which have meaning for them, and to share them with the people with whom they share meaning--friends, family, coworkers, comrades.

Now digital photography is well suited to an age in which people communicate through email and text message (and blog). People can send them back and forth and copy them infinitely, a great improvement on gelatin film, to be sure. The basic problem of digital photography is storage, though, and human habits of record-keeping: while gelatin negatives and prints can go in shoeboxes and albums and be kept indefinitely, digital images are only going last as long as their owners keep copying them from fashionable storage format to fashionable storage format.

How often do people these days refer to information they keep on 5 1/2 inch floppy disks? Yeah, that's right.

I suspect that digital photographs won't tend to be as suitable for long-term storage as they're not immediately accessible without some kind of viewing hardware. Once the hard disk space gets used, once the CD-Rs become obsolete, once there are no more kiosk memory card readers, once people's PCs die on that hot day in February without backups, digital photos of the past will be forgotten. It takes, by comparison, a specific and deliberate act of destruction to get rid of archived or albumed 35mm prints or negatives.

If you, my few readers, are not too dismissive, I'm starting here and now the campaign to save a format of photography. For the records, for the archives, for your family's albums;

Say it loud, say it proud;

Save 35mm!

Labor students confusion; countdown to the split; confessional

First things first. Whoever navigated to this page with the google string 'truth about NOLS' has made my week. Seriously.

Second, the NOLS I'm blogging on is the Australian incarnation of the National Organisation of Labor Students; not the North Olympic Library System or the National Outdoor Leadership School. Perhaps my last four years might have been better spent with either of them--perhaps in Oregon--but I digress. There's only one NOLS like the Australian NOLS, thank goodness.

Third. Many of you are heading to the National Conference of NUS in Ballarat, possibly the last one ever. Good luck to you, and once again, I mean this with all seriousness. I wish you all the best.

For I shall finalise in the next day or so the story of my experience at NUS, and a peculiarly terrible, infuriating, tragic and pathetic experience it was.

Bless me, comrades, for I have sinned.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

hat blogging

This picture is brought to you courtesy of a late night very strange IM conversation with Rob Corr, whose bucket hat--which I taunted inexcusably--frames his head quite well actually, and Nic White, who appears to be a hat collector/fetishist.

It's not a beret in the Resistance/Green Left Weekly sense of the hat. It's a 'boina', the characteristic article of clothing of the Basques.

So there.

Friday, December 10, 2004

OK, seriously now: immigration and educating the instapundit

I hate to link to this instapundit article--there, I did it. It's a bunch of letters about having an 'immigration debate' in the US. So far, so good.

Who can tell me the historical problems with these two paragraphs?

If people want to become just plain ordinary Americans, come on over. If they want to be hyphenated Americans and make little enclaves of where they came from, stay home.

Diversity is in the melting pot. Lots of good ingredients blending together make a mighty fine stew. I still get a kick out of the juxtaposition of different ethnicities like a local Mexican/Italian restaurant. In time the differences melt away and a pizza with taco toppings is just another type of pizza. It's wonderful.

OK, we've got a bunch of different nouns describing ways of dealing with difference within the nation state. There's the 'melting pot', there's 'blending', there's 'enclaves', there's 'hyphenated' and there's 'ordinary Americans'. Earlier in the article (outside my quote) the author uses 'assimilation'.

These are all totally different and contradictory ideas. Let's go through them.

Assimilation, in Australia as well as in the US, is the idea that immigrants should leave behind their language customs, habits, values and ideas. It puts ultimate value on an imagined national culture to which all immigrants must conform. Before you go to the comments field--this means food too.

The 'melting pot' is the imagined product of an Integrationist approach to immigration. As far as I can tell this is the most popularly expressed philosophy in the United States but has gone somewhat out of fashion here in Australia. Migrants and citizens both, according to this idea, integrate together, making equal efforts to come to grips with each others' ways of understanding the world, and--here's the important part--producing one unitary national culture as a result.

Multiculturalism--not mentioned by the instapundit--differs in that it doesn't demand either of immigrants or of citizens that they change their ways of understanding the world to conform to a national culture. There is the requirement to be a part of one national civic society, yes, and the requirements of laws and common human ethics, but that's about it. Any community which is prepared to establish and maintain itself within this national community, so the idea goes, should be allowed to and have the support of the State. Nobody is forced to conform to anybody else's idea of what it is to be a citizen.

The 'immigration debate' will go along a bit smoother if everyone can do a bit of clear thinking. I hope. I often wonder, you see, whether the people who gather together to critique multiculturalism and immigration really have all of their cards on the table, so to speak.

My best hope for the future is that immigration debates can be had in the media and on the internet--not on the streets.

Liam Goes Left Like Yoshida Goes Right

It's true. I am a regular reader of Adam Yoshida. Yes, he scares the hell out of me, and I often wonder whether there's some hoaxer cacking themselves over the thought of fooling offended readers across the globe. I don't really care if he is the work of someone out to discredit the right. You just can't make shit like Yoshida's up.

If I could have one political wish it'd be that Adam Yoshida were promoted to leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia, or better yet the US Republicans. The paranoid, utterly amoral viewpoint would send voters scattering. Actually, if I could have two wishes it'd be that he turned up at my polling booth--alone.

I've always wanted to slip the bounds of self-criticism and be left wing like Yoshida swings to the Right. To boldly ignore the good angel at my shoulder who tells me 'LH, do you
really think that'? To put the boot into my opponents entirely oblivious to decency, fairness or good taste. I think I can get away with it once before remorse and shame takes hold. Reader, here we go.

John Howard says there isn't a recession coming up. He would say that, wouldn't he. After causing brown-trouser moments across the suburbs by beating up interest rates, stealing the election exactly the same way he did by vilifying the asylum seekers. Everyone knows there's a recession coming up: there's got to be.

When the recession comes the massive level of personal debt is going to kick all of those greedy suburbanite God-botherers in the arse. An expanded limit on the mastercard isn't going to help them when the bank's foreclosing and the kids' private school's threatening to kick out Cheyenne and Kylie. I'm looking forward to this recession coming up. People are going to send their kids to public schools again. They're going to stop contributing to private health care and the Government's going to have to fund Medicare properly.

Most of all, aspirational voters are going to come back to the good old ALP. The one party that Australians always choose after the Tories have fucked the economy good and properly. All of the mums and dads are going to come back to Labor and say

"Why, comrades? Why did you let us delude ourselves into thinking plasma screen TVs and big, unwieldy four-wheel-drives would make us happy? Why didn't we trust the local comprehensive with the education of our untalented offspring? Why did we become soullessly individualist? Why did you let us borrow so much money? Give us back cradle-to-the-grave welfare and decent, protective state socialism!"

And do you know what? That's when Labor's going to consolidate it's hold on power, and squeeze every taxable cent out of the entrepreneurial class to pay for social services. Watch out, aspirational voters: you're fucked.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Idiot learns to use linux

It's like having a whole new computer. It's fast, it's not too difficult, it's even quite good looking. I'm getting to enjoy the apple-centric linux distribution (yellowdog) I've installed.

My computer can take it without any troubles. It's the user, though, who's feeling the pressure of self-education. Trading a slow OS for a quicker one is pretty good but I wish I'd also traded up my own intelligence while I was at it. I've been thinking about this, and I think I've got a good analogy for it. I think that going from Mac OSX to linux is a bit like switching from a Camry to a pushbike in inner city traffic. Stay with me here.

The Camry is great by any standards, and any fool can drive around in comfort. It's safe, it's secure, it's predictable and easy to use. It doesn't take any energy of your own, because the engineers have done pretty much everything they can to stop you from hurting yourself. You can tool around with your favourite CD on and not worry in the slightest. On the other hand--it's expensive to buy in and to keep running, it gets a bit boring after a while, and it's slow in an environment that doesn't suit it (the inner city traffic. Are you all following me?)

Now to the pushbike. Now not everyone can ride around no matter if they'd like to or not. Frankly it's a challenge, especially for the (mentally) unfit like me. It takes a lot of practice to stay up and avoid the hazards of riding. At first in fact it's exhausting. On the up side: it doesn't cost anything, you improve your fitness and you move about a lot quicker than you used to.

I'm looking forward to my bruises and grazes. My bag's packed with band-aids and mercurochrome. I've been warned against sudo rm -r. Let's see how we go.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

NOLS memoir: postmortem caucuses

Postmortem caucuses are the worst. A faction sits in the room and decides what everyone has done wrong. This one was the worst I had ever been to, with a filthy nasty shine to everybody's attitudes and a shared short temper, threatening to close some electrical connection and become mad fist-fighting. Appropriately, our chair were arranged in a circle, putting us geometrically at the greatest distance from each other. We'd lost an election, badly, and in the spirit of losing parties the world over, we were trying figure out who was to blame. Twenty or twenty-five of us gathered and tried to assign responsibility for it--we started at the start, finishing at the end, leaving nothing out and leaving no accusation unaccused. Did I mention that it was my worst caucus I'd ever been to so far? It was my first caucus I had ever been to, too.

Perhaps I should start earlier. In the mid-semester break in 1999 I was invited to go to Adelaide for the NUS Education Conference which was that year held at Uni SA. In a digression--it's quite a nice place to have a conference, if I do say so, and the Coopers' on tap in every pub makes me think well of Adelaide. The freezing Antarctic wind, the repressive middle-class environment and the 23 hours of bus trip I'd spent getting there with my comrades who couldn't afford the flight counterbalanced that. But I digress. I was in Adelaide. In 1999. I was kind of in NOLS but kind of not.

NOLS at Sydney University has these strange rules about 'moving people in'. It's like they were a gentlemen's club of the seventeenth century where someone must be vouched for. If someone questions your politics--I'm serious--the whole process is delayed. Meetings start with the question 'new members?', answered either by 'no' or by somebody having to argue your case for you. I wound up in Adelaide as a participating member of NOLS but not a participating member of the Sydney Uni caucus. I could have a vote in the national body but not in my campus one, because the membership restrictions were less at a higher level and greater at a lower level. Confused? You should be. I was.

Caucus makes the decisions. Labor Club does the recruitment. NOLS is the forum for national battles over preselections, and lonesome young nineteen year old socialists, generally, have absolutely no idea what they've gotten themselves into. I helped get DR and DS elected at the Union Board elections but didn't have much to do with the decisions--I hadn't been vouched for. When midyear conference came around I was NOLS by affiliation and accepted the people whose floor I slept on (ta, by the way) but not in the trusted circle at USYD.

To be quite honest I voted with the Labor Right most of the time, at the plenary sessions of Ed conference. NOLS looked around at me like I was some kind of fucknut and I looked at the rest of them as if they were looking at an invisible cue-card without me. (In a sense they were.) You can imagine what it looked like, reader, one lone hand going up in the middle of the NOLS block, during the votes, with the rest of the faction looking across mournfully at their one lone dickhead. What was it Cool Hand Luke was told? That he had a communication problem?

It was suggested that since I had such a thing going for the Labor Party I run as #1 on the ticket 'Labor Students' in the SRC elections coming up in semester 2. It's the biggest student association in numbers, I think, in Australia--there were 41 Reps at that point. Every faction runs gigantic slates of candidates to slowly but surely flow their preferences. I was quite chuffed at being asked to be at the top of NOLS' name ticket.

Our Presidential candidate was DO, a nice hard working guy but uptight and totally unsuited to personality politics. The main opposition was the National Broad Left's star candidate NV. She was articulate, friendly and could have talked the state of Utah into voting Communist. Let me not waste time by talking through the campaign: we copped an absolute flogging. I think NV won about 70% of the primary vote. At the post election drinks at the pub DO drank himself into a stupor and passed out in the toilet.

Did I mention that we got flogged? The NBL ran a campaign against the Labor Party connections NOLS had. We were held responsible for HECS, the partial sale of Telstra, the political situation in East Timor, the rise of Pauline Hanson, pokies in pubs, the first Gulf War, baby seal clubbing, the murder of Rosa Luxembourg, etc. By polling day I'd almost been convinced myself that I was responsible for Chifley sending the troops in to break the coal strike in 1948. They screamed at us, we got pushed away from voters at the booths, we generally did bloody awfully. Of course dealing with Unity probably didn't help either. I came pretty close to tears a few times and even closer to fist fighting once or twice.

A note for the broadleft. You cannot beat NOLS unless you do this. Every subsequent Sydney Uni election you've campaigned positively and made an effort to stay out of the gutter. Nobody actually cares what good politics you have! Accuse NOLS of having been complicit in, say, the Milosevic regime, and you've got yourselves a campaign.

I polled 23 primary votes. I needed 80 to get elected. Ah well. I turned up to the postmortem caucus and there was nothing anybody could say against me. In fact everyone looked at the new people--especially me, LF, DK, SF and one or two others--as if we had totally lost our minds by wanting to be in the faction that had done so piss-poorly. The fact was that we all knew that we'd enjoyed every minute of it and wouldn't mind coming back for another shot next year, this time to win.

Next instalment: NOLS goes splitsville

Monday, December 06, 2004

Do. Not. Make. Enemies. With. Sysadmin.

Some very very very strange short stories on the end of the above link.

2 clicks from nowhere

"tango seven, come in tango seven" the radio crackled to life in the darkened foxhole. "this is tango seven over" i managed in a muffled whisper. "we got movement about two clicks southeast of your position captain." fuck. doesn't charlie ever sleep? i slowly poked my head up and gave the hand signal to the boys to sit tight. i was taking this one. i snapped in a fresh magazine and flipped my 16 to rock-n-roll. i unsnapped my k-bar knife and tested it to make sure the blade would slide out unhindered. oh it came out smooth allright, too smooth. i pulled the pin... "henderson, godammit get off the floor and back to work!" mr. lend said over my cubicle wall. "and take those damn staplers back where you found them!" yeah, i got your staplers baby, i thought to myself, lets see what happens when i change all your log in passwords bitches.

With thanks to Red Harvest.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

NOLS memoir: Meetings are one thing, elections another.

Meetings are one thing, elections another.

When people meet they do not make any real commitment to acting together or identifying as a group. Just signing an attendance book does not make for factional membership--or anything else. Something more is required to get people thinking about politics and power. It's a cliche that we should not judge politicians by what they say but by how they act: the more subtle core of this cliche is that it is the actions, not the words, that make people into politicians.

I am told that the revolutionary campus groups--the names change but they will always be the same--do this by encouraging direct action, attendance at protests, and so on. They are things to do that bind people together in a sense of common purpose and solidarity. Storming the office of the Vice Chancellor is in one sense exactly the same in purpose as planning and organising a student election campaign: it solidifies people's commitment both to a set of political ideals and to each other. I am quite sure that right-wing groups have something similar, perhaps golf, driving up and down the city shouting at pedestrians, or spotlighting kangaroos.

Always there is a moment of epiphany when a student no longer sees student elections only as a pointless waste of time, money and resources, but also as an activity vital to their own lives. It's not easy to slowly digest the complicated rules of engagement peculiar to the student association(s) and to NUS. It's not easy to participate in a 'democratic' process sneered at by the large majority of enrolled students.

Everyone must find their own motivation for learning and getting themselves out of bed. I am told that the first of the Buddha's steps towards enlightenment was realising that the universe is fundamentally out of balance and that society is imperfect. There is a word that expresses this, though I don't recall what it is. In my case the word was 'shit-sheet'.

Shit-sheet. noun, (colloq.) 1. toilet paper, 2. a defamatory and anonymous pamphlet, sometimes comic but more usually vicious in nature, distributed in order to politically compromise an election participant.

The Liberal Party candidate JHP distributed a shit sheet directed at the Greens candidate KM. It was an A4 sheet of coloured paper that accused her, bizarrely, of being a card carrying member of the Liberal Party. Had she not been a friend of mine I might not have taken this so badly but as it was it sent me across campus to the NOLS campaigners I knew to ask them was there anything I could do.

Was there anything I do! What a question! Does the Pope subscribe to the doctrines of the one true Catholic and apostolic Church? Do bears relieve themselves of digested food waste in the forest? Do Old Cranbrookian Liberal candidates have ridiculous accents and like to wear business shirts with jeans? That very day I set about the streets in a fresh new election t-shirt, with a bag full of pamphlets and posters for our candidates, DR and DS. More on them in subsequent instalments.

Honi Soit, the newspaper of the SRC at Sydney Uni, published that week a story on this shit sheet. JHP and friends got together to steal every distributed copy, dumping them in Lake Northam in Victoria Park, where Parramatta Road and City Road intersect. Readers familiar with Sydney should feel sorry for the poor ducks, geese and swamp hens. KM was elected, as were both the NOLS candidates. JHP was not. He contested the next election also--and did even worse.

Next instalment: NOLS exhibits its amazing ability to snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory!

I'm on a steep, steep learning curve

I've just installed linux on a half-partition of my iBook. Oh, man am I on a steep learning curve.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Keith Windschuttle is using my argument in a way I'd never expected

I ended my speech, on the 26 November 2004, at the University of Ballarat with these words:

I do not believe it is fair to the people who argued for past difference ideologies, such as White Australia, to imagine their history as backward. The women and men who imagined white and assimilative Australias were no less enlightened about society than we can claim to be. They thought, imagined, and acted under conditions that no longer exist. If we are to imagine the benefits of multiculturalism, of which Australians can justifiably be proud, as having evolved in a progression away from ignorance, we demean them.

Evaluated as policies, White Australia and assimilationism were not, by any historical standards, good. They caused hardship, injustice and oppression. They denied legitimate difference and extolled a vision of Australia that was unrealistic and repressive. At their worst they allowed Australians to act and think in inexcusable, inhumane and racist ways. We should indeed be thankful that White Australia no longer operates as official policy: however, we should not imagine that our ideas of difference, that we at the moment hold, are in any way superior in themselves. Multiculturalism is after all only another difference ideology, historically contingent and vulnerable to criticism. Multicultural policy can also be used as a vehicle of injustice and repression, if not accompanied by egalitarianism, humanitarianism, and a sense of social justice.

I argued previously that when we think about the ideological basis for our nation-state's approach to difference, we are making political choices. The ideologies of the past that I have covered in this paper--White Australia, assimilationism, integrationism, multiculturalism--have many things to teach us if we are willing to understand them. Each of these ideologies were products of political choices made in the past about the kind of Australia their backers wanted to see. In every case it was radical and socially challenging egalitarianism!

I hope that clears everything up.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Chifley and my new Party card

I got my 2004-2005 Party card in my PO Box today. Well, actually I got two, and a following letter from Sussex St apologising for the administrative error--pffft--but that is not the point. They've done exceedingly well in picking someone to be on it. Call me a history geek and a pathetic sucker for the Party that constantly threatens my mental health but... I'll be very proud to carry a picture of Ben Chifley around in my wallet for the next year.

I wonder, though, what Chif would have made of this.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

NOLS memoir: faction is a nasty word

Faction is a nasty word.

Opponents are always factional, never friends. Factions bicker. Factions are about pointless quarelling. Factions can never do any good. Factionalism works against the best interests of anything. Factionalised things are always less than they could be. A faction is always a sign that things are not right. Factions are a waste of energy. People should not join factions but work as best they can as independent human beings.

The factions in the Labor Party are a liability. Labor is about more than Left and Right. Internal politics should be about unity. Factions stop people getting together for the common good. People should come to consensus decisions.

I thought all of these things in 1999, and surprised myself no end by enthusiastically joining one of these horrid beasts. In fact at the tender age of nineteen I joined the student faction with the worst reputation for internal bickering and personality division amongst all of the NUS lot. I joined the National Organisation of Labor Students (NOLS), or at least its branch at Sydney University.

My story starts in the Merewether building, on City Road, in the University of Sydney. LF told me, during a lecture on the political party system in Australia, that she'd joined up to the Sydney Uni Labor Club—and that she thought I should do the same. I'd recently received my ALP membership card, and I'd been meaning to go to some meeting for a while. As she and I once a week fought a losing battle of progressive politics against the lawyers-and-bankers-to-be enrolled in Government, and as I had nothing to do that lunchtime, I went along. It was as simple a recruitment ploy as is ever made for impressionable minds.

There were gathered a group of fifteen or so students of varying ages. They passed motions, argued their points, voted, attacked each other, and behaved terribly. There was shouting, there were accusations, there was pouting worthy of E Street. I was instantly hooked. Watching a meeting in progress is an art in understanding politics. The easiest thing in the world is spotting the dominant characters and the people who like their own voices. The most difficult job is figuring out what is actually going on.

In NOLS as in any organisation the written agenda of a meeting never actually reflects the issues at stake. A sour relationship might come out in a spat over motions about foreign policy. A letter to the Education Minister might flush to the surface a fight over positions. People tend to suppress their grievances and they pop out in unexpected ways; you can see it in body language, where people sit in the room, what they do and how they vote.

Meetings are the basic unit of student politics. There is no way to understand what is going on without being able to read and follow the flows of a meeting. The moment of epiphany when you realise that you are not baffled, frustrated and intimidated, but actually fascinated and involved, carries its own small sense of joy. The fear of speaking wears off when you realise that your involvement is an exercise, no more, and you stop taking things personally. You say to yourself 'This is fun'. And then, when you get your procedural motion carried, you can sit back and call yourself a student politician.

In March 1999 I found myself factionalised. I suppose I should have seen it coming.

Readers will note in the coming instalments that I have abbreviated names of individuals to their initials. This is partly out of consideration and partly out of cowardice. I have no wish either to hurt people I consider friends or to defame or to suffer the consequences of telling the truth about genuinely horrible individuals—who in any case are responsible for setting straight their own side of the story. People in the know will be able to identify themselves and others without much trouble.

In the next instalment: student elections, deals, and first blood